They Sacrificed for You

Peñasco Golf Trip (5 of 55)As the caravan approached the border, armed guards braced for its arrival. The disparate group of refugees was hopeful they could talk their way through the barrier. As Hans Birkholz dutifully scanned the wall for breaks in the concertina wire, David Harbour and Mike Forde rehearsed the plan. “If Jones pisses them off, we tell them he’s a hired driver and we had no idea that trying to cross the border with a loose-cannon violated Mexican laws against arms importation.” The last car in the caravan carried Dave and Lauri Allen poised to retreat at the first sign of discord on the frontera.

The crossing went as planned as Jones’ charm instantly disarmed all the guards at the border. Their AR-15s remained lowered and they waved us through with smiles on their faces. We were in!

Peñasco Golf Trip (1 of 55)We quickly checked into our barracks at the Puesta del Sol Hotel and immediately went to a secret location five miles southeast of town. Restaurante El Barco was a wooden shack on a beach a couple miles off the road. They promptly provided our team of commandos with eleven dozen oysters on the half-shell and twenty Xs. With two Xs on each bottle, that amounted to ten beers. The oysters were positively delectable and the entire eleven dozen cost less than two dozen had they been purchased in Scottsdale. The image to the right is of Commandante Jones and Commandante Allen reviewing the plans for the next four days.

Peñasco Golf Trip (2 of 55)The team relaxed until the following morning when they convened at a German restaurant for breakfast. If that doesn’t sound suspicious enough, check out the expression on Lauri Allen’s face while she previews the plan for the day while doing everything possible to appear that she’s reading a menu.

After a great breakfast, it was time to head onto the field of battle, Vidanta Golf Course, a spectacular layout designed by Jack Nicklaus and his son.  The picture was taken upon our arrival. Jones, Harbour and Forde are all smiles at this point, but they didn’t know the intensity with which they were about to be attacked. They teed off and the assault was Peñasco Golf Trip (9 of 55)on. The battle had been joined. Frankly, we were flogged. The course laid siege from the beaches, the air, the under-brush, the hillsides and from the many traps that had been placed in our path. Nicklaus’ approach was obviously, “Let there be no survivors.” There weren’t. The campo-de-golf slaughtered us after repulsing each advance we offered.

We returned to the barracks after losing our balls one at a time all across the field of battle. Some of us medicated, others (such as Dave and Lauri) indulged in various forms of physical rehabilitation. Later that evening, we reconvened our strategic planning Peñasco Golf Trip (8 of 55)committee meeting, this time at La Curva, Peñascos finest for traditional Sonoran Mexican food. We recharged and did what we could to prepare to launch our counter attack the following morning.

Again on Saturday, the course emerged victorious. We fared better than we had the previous day, but in the end, we were still forced to raise the white flag of surrender. Vidanta was better than we were and still stands like the summit of K-2, all but invincible. But being a hard-headed bunch of upstarts, we intend on trying again. It’s one of the most beautiful courses on the planet and it will give any and every golfer, regardless of ability, all he or she can handle. Each hole is unique with its own character. We were merely its victims.

All in all, even though the course won every battle, it was a great four days. We had great golf, great food (and a little bit of crappy food), great weather, great scenery and fantastic oysters. We’ll be back. Here are a few pictures from the front.


Hey Scrooge – Can I Have Word with You?

ScroogeIt’s the holiday season. It’s a time when warm and fuzzy phrases abound. “Good will to men. Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. Peace on Earth.” The list goes on. One phrase I heard incessantly from my mother as I was growing up was, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Even old hard-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge lightened up and made Tiny Tim’s day. Never mind that he probably evicted the family after the holidays passed. The less fortunate have needs for things some of us take for granted, especially at this time of year.

Speaking of the less fortunate, let’s remember our staff and servers at Camelback Golf Club. We’re incredibly fortunate to have a great group of people working hard to keep us happy. For many of us, life is tough. A few of us actually still have to “work”, albeit usually more for ego gratification than for further financial gain. Our lives are filled with tragedies like bogeys, frost delays, and lost balls, but we endure.

On the other side of the metaphorical world, there are people who would be delighted if a bogey was their biggest worry. These people actually have to produce income in order to put food on the table for their families. Some of us remember those days fondly, but don’t yearn to return to them. For us, it’s easy to forget that those working to keep our pleasure rides moving forever forward are doing so not for the pure joy of seeing us. They’re doing it for the money … the money they need to buy groceries, to pay the bills, to stay warm and to save for the future – a future that will hopefully be at least half as comfortable as ours.

Let’s take care of our servers. They work for almost no pay. They depend upon our generosity to get over the top. In the case of our golf group, they serve a couple dozen people. They keep track of our individual bills. They clean up after us. They do their best to make us happy. And somehow through some miracle channel I have never understood, they smile throughout the process. I damn sure couldn’t do it.

Sometimes they go far out of their way to help. For example, after one particularly dismal performance on the golf course, one golfer took a scorecard and tore it into little pieces. The detritus was left on the table for Sam to clean up. Upon my arrival following Scorecardour next round of golf, there sat the rotten scorecard skillfully reconstructed and taped back together. Sam thought we might need it. How much better service can you get?

We go out and knock a five dollar golf ball into the lake and think nothing of it. Yet to leave a little expression of our gratitude for our wait staff sometimes seems like a major financial conundrum. Do I tip 15% or 20% on a five dollar tab? OMG! Who’s got change for a quarter?

Here’s another point. Members get certain libations for free. Iced tea, coffee, bottled water, etc. If your tab totals zero dollars, have some sense. 20% of zero is still zero. Yet your server has pleasantly greeted you, shuttled your free drinks to the table, served munchies at no charge, brought you a refill and cleaned up your mess after your departure. And done it for free! Yea, go ahead, double the tip; leave 40%, big spender.

Show these people you appreciate them. Get the death grip off your wallet and say thank you in a way that can truly help. They work because they need to work, not because it’s such a joy to see our sour faces. They work to feed their families. Let’s put a smile on their faces for a change.

Listen Up Pilgrim – New Rules

GolferDownI’m sure most of you have read the USGA “Rules of Golf” from cover to cover countless times. Many of you can cite chapter and verse from memory. Just the other night, I woke myself up at 2:30 a.m. screaming something about Rule 28 and how my ball was unplayable. My wife mumbled something about taking a Mulligan and going back to sleep.

Much of our effort to committing the rule book to memory becomes of little value on January 1st when the 2019 Rules of Golf officially go into effect. That means we’ve got to memorize a completely new book of rules (and it contains 240 pages). Egad. Although some of you have already done so, the rest of you have work to do. Get on it!

There are some major changes, especially with regard to the way the native grass areas on Ambiente (soon to be called “penalty areas”) are played.

To give those who play in our group a heads-up on getting ready for 2019, our games on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will – by decree – be played under the 2019 rules beginning with our first November match (Nov. 2nd). Note this decree applies ONLY to matches played within our regular golf group. There has been and probably will not be any such declaration by Camelback Golf Club or any other group within it.

For those of you who used to buy the Cliff Notes versions of your books in school rather than wasting time actually reading the classics, Bob Sznewajs has been kind enough to give us a link to a simple summary of the changes. I highly encourage you to watch it. Click here to view the video.

The primary reason for adopting the 2019 rules sooner rather than later is to help all of us in the transition. I’m sure there will be countless errors due to force-of-habit and boundless confusion for a while. Designated scorekeepers need to exercise a little understanding and compassion in enforcing the new rules. We’ll struggle a little bit, but we’ll be much better off in the long run.

If It Feels Good, Do It!

elsGive yourself the joy of hearing it slide into the hole, of seeing it disappear, of knowing that you completed the task as nature meant it to be done. Putt the ball into the hole, not near it, not by it, not within a foot, two feet, three feet; putt the ball INTO the hole. If you take a step back and look at the game of golf, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that putting the ball INTO the hole is actually defined as the object of the game. Don’t deny yourself that pleasure.

Section 1-1 of the USGA Rules of Golf: The Game of Golf consists of playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the rules.

Within our golf group at Camelback, we have adopted a policy which coincidentally corresponds with the USGA Rules of Golf. We are putting the ball INTO the hole. As expected, there is grumbling. “That’s ridiculous. I would never miss a putt that close!”

If that is true, then what are you bitching about? If you can’t miss it, enjoy the sound of the ball rolling in the bottom of the hole. Bathe yourself with the satisfaction of playing the hole in the manner in which the game was designed. Bask in the glory of having upheld the honor of the game of golf by playing by the rules.

As a reality check, consider the case of Sue Clark. In her last twenty or so rounds, she has carded a 74, a 75, a 78 and a 79. It’s probably reasonable to assume that with scores like that, she’s a better than average golfer. (I’m practicing my understatement skills.) However, on Friday past, she three-putted from three feet! It happens. It is not uncommon to see someone “give” a three footer, but obviously, it shouldn’t be a given. I still have nightmares about the time I four-putted from six feet in a tournament. Maybe if I hadn’t been so willing to accept gratuitous “gimmes” in previous rounds, I might have improved my score by only three-putting.

Why do golfers give and accept “gimmes”? When someone gives you a two-footer and you pick it up, the reality is you do so because you’re scared half to death that you might miss the putt.

Why does someone offer to give you a putt? Because it gives him a feeling of magnanimity and authority. There may also be a darker side to the act, an implied quid-pro-quo. “Hey you jerk, I gave you a three-footer back on two and you’re going to make me putt this one?” (Hint: The correct answer is “Yes”.) If you feel the words “Pick it up” or “That’s good” welling to your lips, spit them out, but don’t say them. Don’t lead your fellow golfers into temptation.

One of the arguments, lame as it might be, for awarding gimmes is … it speeds up play. Nonsense! Truth be known, if we assume someone has a one-footer remaining on each of the eighteen holes and he takes a full three seconds to tap that “automatic” putt into the hole, then you’ve added a full 54 seconds to the round. Oh my, call the marshall.

Sandy volcano
Everyone misses the short one, even Sandy Wiener

Since we’ve been playing with a more rigorous approach to putting out, hardly a soul hasn’t missed a two-footer. I certainly have. If we accept the gimmes, we’re hurting ourselves. We’re fooling ourselves into thinking we’re actually a little better than we really are. We’re gazing into a carnival mirror to evaluate our own abilities. The only thing a vanity handicap buys is a place near the bottom of the standings in legitimate tournaments. We’re denying ourselves the practice we need on the short putts and that practice is a critical component to becoming a better golfer. On the two-footer, the stroke is shorter. The follow-through is shorter. The muscle control is in many respects more demanding. Miss a thirty inch putt in the club championship and you’ll kick yourself for taking all those gimmes.

Old habits may be tough to break. You may slap at the ball that stopped four inches from the hole and you may miss it. It’s possible; ask Ernie Els ( Ernie has won nearly fifty million dollars on the pro tour, but he seven-putted in The Masters. If he can do it, so can you. And note that no one said to Els, “Hey, that was good.” If you miss your putt – it’s a stroke.

Here’s what we’re going to do within our group until we establish the habit of finishing the hole the way the rule book says we should. If someone absentmindedly picks up his six-incher through the force of habit, his playing partners MAY allow him to place the ball back on the spot from which it was lifted with no penalty. The golfer must then make the putt.

Golf is a game of honor. Play it with honor. Putt it into the hole. Do it for Ernie. Do it for yourself. If it feels good, do it.


High in the Pines

Pinetop Golf (12 of 66)
Our gracious hosts, Mike and Vicky Smothermon

Pinetop, Arizona was the site of some fun golf and great camaraderie this past weekend. More than a dozen Camelback Golf Club members and some additional friends and family played golf at more than 7,200 feet high in the mountains where long drives went longer than ever. Participants played one or more of some great courses.

Torreon offered magnificent views and a course to test any golfer’s skills. Silver Creek was a great layout with eighteen challenging and beautiful holes. Pinetop Lakes Country Club was a scenic test of golfing skill. Finally, the historic White Mountain Country Club gave every golfer breathtaking views and some monumental tests of golfing skills.

Being a gracious host for dinner and golf must pay rewards in golfer heaven. Mike Smothermon carded at 75 Monday at White Mountain Country Club, but his wife, Vicky, finished with a strong round of 79 (net 64) to more than hold her own. Mike shot a 69 on Sunday giving him low gross honors two days in a row. Continue reading “High in the Pines”

Predicting the Future by Controlling the Future

Nearly three thousand years ago, The Oracle at Delphi opened for business in Athens, Greece. The Oracle operated for a few hundred years administering advice, wisdom and philosophical insights. Rumor has it the business waned and finally failed when some smooth-taking Roman convinced the Oracle to franchise. Nonetheless, they had a great run for a few centuries.

The tradition lives on in Arizona through The Oracle at Hot Stix. After suffering consternation over life’s great philosophical quandaries, e.g., “Why do wedges chunk when you hit’em?” and “Why are twenty foot putts easy while three footers are nearly impossible?”, I was at wit’s end. Fortunately, humanity has evolved in such a manner that its members find survival value in helping other members of their club. First, Joe Busch (the club whisperer) confided in me. In his customary nuanced way, he said, “Your game sucks! You need to visit the Oracle at Hot Stix.” Naturally, I ignored Joe thinking … opinions are like … oh, never mind. I ignored him. A week later, he looked at my scorecard and blurted out his soon to be recurrent advice, “Go see the Oracle at Hot Stix.” Continue reading “Predicting the Future by Controlling the Future”

Camelback Golf History is Made

Chip smilesWow!!! Those who know me will assure you that it is a rare occasion when I’m left speechless. Chip Nelson created one of those instants Wednesday when I was handed his group’s scorecard. Chip had just obliterated the existing course record for the Ambiente course by shooting a 60 from the Verde tees.

It was a warm day. Winds occasionally gusted to ten knots. The course was in good shape. The stage was set for an 11:10 a.m. tee off in a group with Dr. Jack Summers and Captain Lee Mitchell. The opening hole on the Ambiente course sets the tone. It’s a challenging dogleg with both fairway and green guarded with cavernous sand traps. Chip carded a birdie three.

Chip birdied the second hole and stood on the tee box of the 504 yard par 5 third hole. He was already two under par. He carded an eagle on the third to go four under after three. After another birdie on the fourth hole, Chip just missed the green with his drive on the par 4 fifth. That didn’t appear to hurt him because he chipped it in for another eagle. After five holes, Chip was seven under par!

Continue reading “Camelback Golf History is Made”